Ripon residents have been urged to bite the bullet and support plans to establish a Business Improvement District (BID) in the city.
More than 50 business owners and interested parties packed out an open meeting held at The Old Deanery on Tuesday night, where members of the BID task group delivered an impassioned presentation about what a yes vote could mean for Ripon - sharing ideas and suggestions for projects that could be made possible under a Ripon BID, and explaining more about how the process works.
There was a sea of hands at the end of the presentation when task group member Rachel Hartridge asked who supports the idea of a Ripon BID, having considered the presentation's plea to get behind the plans, or "risk the city being left behind."
There were far fewer hands, though, when Rachel asked who would be willing to volunteer and help drive forward the BID - through joining the task group, pledging to spread the word among other business owners, or getting involved in some other way.
Visibly disappointed by this, Stuart Martin, who is also a member of the task group, stood up and pleaded with residents to get involved.
Mr Martin said: "I think this is a crossroads in Ripon's future - we have some fantastic independent businesses and we have got a good offer. If we want to attract more of these businesses, the only way they are going to come is if we bite the bullet and run with it - this is our chance.
"The success of the poppy project last year showed what a group of community-minded people can achieve with a little bit of effort, and we can do it again."
Rachel Hartridge said: "Let's get behind the BID, otherwise we are dead in the water. Ripon needs to get on board or get left behind."
Some of the initial ideas and suggestions for projects to be driven by a Ripon BID, listed in the presentation, included: having regular events in Ripon Market Square; having pop-up shops in vacant units; a film festival; parking schemes to incentivise shoppers; developing a promotional website for the city; improving signage/information boards; developing cycle trails; having farmers/artisan markets, and increasing financial support for existing activities such as the St Wilfrid's Procession.
There was also talk of using the BID to create a stronger identity for Ripon, and part of the open meeting looked at case studies of towns and cities where BIDs have been successful, who have used BID projects to develop their tourist attraction brand.
Skipton's success in using its BID to brand itself as a Punch and Judy capital with a puppet festival was discussed, among the other festivals and projects that have been developed in the town. Referring to how Ripon could strengthen its identity, John Alder, who is another Ripon BID task group member, spoke about the idea of creating an Alice in Wonderland trail to celebrate Ripon's connections with Lewis Carroll.
He said: "There is worldwide interest in Lewis Carroll, and I do think we are missing a trick not making use of the connections we have in Ripon."
More than 300 BIDs have now been launched in towns and cities across the UK, where business rate payers are charged a levy in addition to their business rates bill in a defined area.
The revenue is then used to drive forward ambitious projects to benefit businesses, decided by businesses, which must be additional improvements that Harrogate Borough Council and other local authorities do not already provide on a statutory basis.
A BID would be launched if the majority of businesses, both in number and their rateable value, voted it in.
The Ripon BID team is employing consultancy firm Mosaic to conduct a feasibility study and help bring the BID to ballot. It was Mosaic who brought Harrogate's BID to ballot, which was voted through last year.
Ripon's feasibility study will cost £5,000, with £2,500 already raised by the task group, and £2,500 in match funding pledged by Harrogate Borough Council if the plans are progressed to this stage.
A show of hands from the room indicated that the Ripon business owners attending the open meeting support a feasibility study being carried out.
As well as the task group, a board of directors will be appointed by, and held directly accountable to the levy payers, and the BID will appoint a suitably qualified BID manager - a maximum of 20 per cent of the levy will be allocated to their salary.
The directors will be volunteers, and the aim of the board is to represent the make-up of the city's businesses. A BID normally runs for five years at a time, then a new ballot is held for the next period.
In terms of time frame, the Ripon BID team will have a business plan completed in the second half of this year, and if a yes vote is secured, the aim is to have a BID up and running in 2020.
Ripon BID's mission statement reads: “To shape and position Ripon city as a thriving and prosperous place, taking proactive measures to meet the demands of our city and its users whilst listening, communicating, and working for and alongside the business community.”
There was some discussion and debate at the open meeting about which areas of the city a Ripon BID should include, and what the role of a Ripon BID manager should be.
One resident said it's important that the BID manager has a creative spark, to help make the ideas and vision of Ripon businesses a reality. The Ripon BID team made it clear that whilst the manager would be a figurehead of sorts, it's the Ripon business community who will drive it.
The presentation stated: "This is run by you, it’s your opportunity to help launch the changes you want to see in Ripon."
The Ripon BID Task Group members are: Stuart Baldwin, John Alder, Rachel Hartridge, Sheila Webb, Richard Taylor, Stuart Martin, Stephen Craggs, and Annette Lyons.
The group needs more business owners and interested residents to volunteer and help drive forward the BID. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get in touch.